Blackhawks’ community rink proposal scores goal


G-Jun Yam

The old Malcolm X College building, located at 1801-1853 W. Jackson, will be demolished and replaced by a new Blackhawks practice rink.

By Associate Editor

The Chicago Blackhawks’ proposal to create a new practice rink that will also be available for community use was approved by the city’s Plan Commission on Jan. 21.

The facility, initially announced in a July press release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is proposed for the Near West Side between 1801–1853 W. Jackson Blvd., a location soon to be vacated by Malcolm X College, according to the Plan Commission report. 

Reports given to the Department of Planning and Development in December and January said the facility would take up approximately four acres of land, including a parking lot, two regulation-sized ice rinks, locker rooms, retail and fitness spaces,  and a restaurant.

The plan moves to the next step of approval, the Zoning Committee, on Feb. 9, according to Peter Hassen, senior executive of marketing for the Blackhawks.

The unanimous approval by the Plan Commission was anticipated, Hassen said. The team hopes to begin construction this summer with an estimated November 2017 opening. 

“The vision of our owner, Rocky Wirtz—to build a facility and provide benefits to the community here in which we’ve resided for almost 100 years—it’s somewhat unprecedented,” Hassen said.

Since the team only needs one ice rink to practice when they are not at the United Center or traveling, the additional rink will continue efforts the Blackhawks have already started with organizations like Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Park Districts, he said.

Hassen said the aim is also to help children “build character” through educational tutoring as well as lessons in nutrition and fitness.

“[The goal is to] leverage what the Blackhawks have done over the last six years and try and get more kids to understand the game, love the game and maybe we impact their life in some positive way,” he said.

A new rink will provide access to anyone in Chicago interested in hockey, according to Pete Johnson, general manager of Johnny’s IceHouse,  the existing Blackhawks practice facility. 

Currently, the city has only two public indoor skating rinks, according to the Chicago Park District website.

Alderman Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward), whose ward would house the proposed rink is a member of the Plan Commission. He predicts the same success for the plan as it continues to the city’s Zoning Committee.

In addition to supporting children from various economic classes, Burnett said he is also excited about the amenities the rink would bring, including new jobs.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Burnett said.

Earnest Gates,  executive director of the Near West Side Community Development Corporation whose organization has collaborated with the Bulls, said the rink will be an opportunity for local kids to similarly learn about a new sport.

“We’re planning to establish an identical relationship with the Blackhawks,” Gates said.

The rink’s additional educational resources are estimated to be worth approximately $3 million, Hassen said. The team’s philanthropic group, Blackhawks Charities, is currently collecting donations and grants, he added.

The team tries to be good community neighbors, Hassen said, and this is a way to continue those efforts on a large scale.

“We always take a look and say there are people that can see the United Center [from where they live], but they don’t always get a chance to come in here…. What we’d like to do is give them an opportunity to see what happens here and see there is opportunity here,” Hassen said. “The community rink is an extension of that.”